Tracking surgical instruments with AI: A new approach to patient safety

Medical errors can have devastating consequences for patients, and one of the most alarming errors is the retention of surgical items in a patient’s body after surgery. Retained surgical items (RSIs) can lead to severe complications, prolonged hospital stays, additional surgeries and even fatalities. According to an article in the Patient Safety in Surgery Journal, RSI events were the number one sentinel event in 2019. Hospitals and healthcare providers constantly seek innovative solutions to prevent such occurrences and improve patient safety.

Many studies and reports have helped stimulate policy change by making patient safety a national priority, especially over the last 20 years. New policies, procedures and technologies aimed at decreasing RSI events have been introduced in the operating room to prevent near miss and never events. In recent years, the integration of video technology with AI-powered cameras and analytic systems has become a game-changer. These technologies are reducing RSI incidents, enhancing patient outcomes and mitigating legal liabilities.

The challenge of RSI events

Retained surgical items, commonly referred to as “sponge counts” or “surgical souvenirs,” are surgical instruments, sponges or other objects unintentionally left inside a patient’s body after surgery. While healthcare organizations and professionals make extensive efforts to prevent such incidents, they still occur.

However, it’s important to note that RSIs are considered a never event, meaning they are entirely preventable, and healthcare facilities have strict protocols and procedures to minimize such incidents. Some hospitals and surgical teams use technologies like barcoding, radiofrequency tagging of surgical items and manual counting processes to reduce the risk of RSIs.

Patients who experience an RSI may suffer from infections, abscesses, bowel obstructions, severe pain and organ damage. Removing retained items often necessitates additional surgery, prolonging recovery periods and increasing healthcare costs. For healthcare providers, RSI incidents can result in litigation, substantial financial penalties, damage to their reputation and, most importantly, loss of patient trust.

The role of data-driven video technology

Data-driven video technology is a powerful tool designed to manage and store video data from security and surveillance cameras. Open-platform video management software (VMS) extends beyond traditional security to a wide range of operational uses. Hospitals can leverage open-platform video management software to enhance their security protocols, monitor critical areas and — as we’re beginning to see — help prevent RSI incidents. Open-platform VMS empowered with advanced AI analytic software is now providing numerous operating room benefits:

Object recognition: An open-platform VMS enables real-time video monitoring of surgical procedures. With strategically placed cameras in operating rooms, surgical teams and administrators can track the use and disposal of surgical instruments and minimize the risk of items being left inside patients. As an object is detected, the system can cross-reference that item with the surgical checklist to ensure that all items are accounted for before the surgeon closes the incision.

Automated anomaly alerts: Video management alarm systems integrated with AI-powered cameras can detect missing or unusual objects in surgical areas. As AI analytics detect anomalies, such as missing objects, surgical count irregularities or standard procedure deviations, the surgical team can be immediately alerted to rectify the situation before it becomes critical.

Predictive analytics: AI can analyze recorded video data to identify patterns that may lead to RSI incidents. Hospitals can use this information to implement proactive measures and training programs to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Audit trails: Hospitals can create detailed audit trails for surgical procedures, helping track the use and disposal of surgical equipment more accurately and efficiently. This transparency ensures accountability among the surgical team.

Operational efficiency: Streamlining instrument tracking and inventory management can lead to more efficient operating room processes, reduced surgical delays and overall hospital efficiency.

Documentation and compliance: Video management software generates detailed logs and documentation of surgical procedures, enabling healthcare professionals to easily review and verify the steps taken during surgery. This documentation is also crucial in legal proceedings if an RSI case arises. Avoiding legal battles and complications resulting from RSI incidents can lead to significant cost savings for healthcare facilities.

Reduced liability: Hospitals that install advanced tracking systems may reduce their liability in the event of RSI incidents, as they may demonstrate proactive measures taken to prevent such occurrences.

Reducing RSI incidents

AI cameras and analytics are changing the way hospitals prevent RSI incidents. Open-platform VMS leverages an ever-expanding community of camera manufacturers, video analytic software developers, application developers, and device and sensor manufacturers — all working together to create a unified solution. Data-driven video technology can ingest, process and present vast amounts of data to hospital management, nursing staff, and various departments and stakeholders, which helps them make informed, proactive decisions as they occur.

By providing the ability to observe, detect and respond to situations quickly, data-driven video technology is expanding the classic security camera system to help optimize patient outcomes and deliver a safer, more efficient surgical environment. In essence, video management software has evolved into the central platform that seamlessly integrates all this intelligence into a combined system. While the use of video cameras and video data analytic software for this use is still relatively new, it is becoming increasingly popular and, more importantly, has the potential to greatly improve patient safety and reduce the risk of surgical complications.

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